Katie Alender is the author of the Bad Girls Don’t Die series from Hyperion and Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer from Scholastic. She is a graduate of the Florida State University Film School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and the world’s politest small brown dog, Scooter. When she’s not writing novels, she can usually be found in her sewing room, reading, eating delicious high-calorie foods, and hanging out with her friends (on very special occasions, she manages to do all of those things at once). You can find her on: facebook | the website | tumblr | twitter
Your biography on your website states that you do not like scary stories. Keeping this in mind, did writing a book about malicious ghosts bent on destruction scare you? As an author, where did you position yourself? Were you inside the protagonist’s mind or were you an objective narrator? What was the experience like?
As an author, you’re in control of the ghost, so it’s not scary for me in the way that it might be for a reader. I know what’s coming, so there’s none of that element of surprise. But I do get scared occasionally. Part of writing horror is daydreaming up spooky new situations, so sometimes I’ll be somewhere, and I’ll think, “What’s the scariest thing that could happen right now?” or “What’s the scariest thing that could be looking in the window at me if I turned around?” And of course that’s when my imagination runs wild. It’s mostly okay, but sometimes I forget and do that when I’m home alone or in bed at night, and then I have this image of a monster lurking in the corner all night.
I’ve also been spooked when I was writing scary scenes because I tend to tense up when I’m writing in that mood. When I was working on a big scary scene in Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer one night, there was a balloon sort of off to the side in my house, and it kept randomly bobbing up and down. Eventually I had to get up and let the air out of it, because it kept making me jump. (Yes, I’m a shameless balloon killer!)
In Bad to Cursed Alexis comes close to losing her essential self taken as she is by acceptance and the sense of belonging. However, even without evil supernatural entities, reality often has instances when principles are compromised and scruples are abandoned for various reasons. How important is it, do you think, to address such issues in children’s literature? Do you believe fiction can be used as a vehicle to address societal issues?
Fiction can be used as a vehicle for anything! And books are wonderful places to find messages that speak to you and can change the way you think, believe, or act. With that being said, I don’t ever set out to write a book about an issue. I never thought, “I’m going to teach teenage girls that they don’t need to sell their souls!” It’s always about story, first and foremost. The way I approach story development lends itself to the existence of some overarching message in a book, though, because I put a big focus (behind-the-scenes) on my main character’s moral need, which shapes the theme, which then becomes a big part of what a reader might take away after reading the book. But those elements exist only to support the spine of the story.
How would you define evil? Do you think it is even possible to define such an abstract concept? There has been a move in contemporary culture and art from black, completely villainous characters to grey characters who are accessorized with sob stories and legitimate reasons for their iniquity. What do you think of this trend?
Evil is one of those things, like love, where you know it when you see it. but it’s difficult to define. Ultimately I’m a firm believer in compassion and seeing things from another person’s point of view, so I support the idea of shades of gray in portrayals of villains. Thinking about how this applies to my books, I think that for me, I tend to treat the “source” of evil as a very black and white thing while having the villain in the story be somewhat sympathetic and nuanced. In the end, the so-called villain has the potential to be saved, but the source of the evil must be destroyed or cut off. In the third Bad Girls Don’t Die book, As Dead As It Gets, the villain refuses to sever that connection for himself, so he has to be destroyed along with it. But thinking about it in general, I think my overall approach is that people can be consumed by evil but then choose to be redeemed. This is what happens in Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer.
Have you ever had experiences with ghosts? Or in other words, what was the inspiration for Bad Girls Don’t Die?
All of my stories are inspired by the characters. The ghosts are actually secondary. They’re part of the vehicle of the story, the mechanics that exist to get the character from point A to point B, development-wise. Bad Girls Don’t Die was inspired by the idea of two sisters, isolated from the world, who rely on one another. The theme of sisterhood, and what your obligations are as a sister, carries through the entire series, with Alexis and Kasey’s relationship evolving from book to book until they’re basically equals. In Marie Antoinette, the ghost was a vehicle for the main character, Colette, to overcome her fears and her willingness to pretend to be a person she’s not so that she can be accepted.
Horror and paranormal fiction is particularly popular among adolescents. What do you think appeals to them most about this subgenre?
Reading horror can make you feel better about your own problems. I also think that horror novels often have an element of the heroic, which is something a reader can project him or herself into. My books usually come down to some kind of knock-down, drag-out battle, where the character survives through strength of will. The idea of being tested that way and coming out on top has appeal for just about everyone, I think. We all like to believe we would pass a test like that.
I think the paranormal is popular with teens for the same reason it’s popular with writers — there’s so much interesting material to be found there! And you can use the various paranormal creatures and devices to represent forces and emotions and symbols in exciting and unusual ways. Things stand out in a bit sharper relief.
What sort of literature inspires you? What book do you wish you had written? And if not ghosts, which other paranormal creature (apart from Zombies) would you have written about?
I’m inspired by any book that has characters who draw me in. At the end of a book or series, if I feel lonely for the sudden loss of the characters, that’s a pretty sure sign I love the book. I’ve read a lot of Trollope over the past few years, and I’m very inspired by his portrayals of women (especially if you consider the time period in which he wrote).
I wouldn’t say there are books I wish I’d written, except books of my own I wish I’d written. I was working on what would now be called a “dystopian” book (even though it, as is the case with so many books given that label, is nothing like that) before that craze hit, and I wish I’d pushed a little harder and worked a little faster and tried to get it out there, because now it feels too late for that project. (Maybe someday…) I mean, I could say I wish I’d written Harry Potter, because who doesn’t want their own theme park and their own billion dollars?
For me the focus in writing ghosts isn’t so much that there’s a ghost, but that the character is pushed out of her comfort zone in a meaningful and powerful way. So as long as I can incorporate those elements, I’d write about any force — natural, human, supernatural — and consider it consistent with my body of work so far. I’ve been working on projects with elements of monsters, interdimensionality, and other forces like that. They’re all simply a means to an end, so I feel comfortable using and owning any or all of them!